Alfred Hitchcock Collectors’ Guide: The Mountain Eagle (1926)

  • The Master’s only missing feature is one of the most wanted silent films of all
  • It’s bookended by a pair of masterpieces and is very likely just as impressive
  • In a slight deviation from his favourite theme, it concerns a Wronged Man on the Run
  • Innocent of all charges but despite a worldwide hunt, this particular fugitive remains elusive…

Note: this is one of 50-odd Hitchcock articles coming over the next few months. Any dead links are to those not yet published. Subscribe to the email list to be notified when new ones appear.

Alfred Hitchcock, Alma Reville and crew on the set of The Mountain Eagle (1926)

Sorry folks, nothings to see here. Topping the BFI Most Wanted list, this film’s completely lost and the only one of Hitch’s solo features not to survive, though there have been other recent discoveries, so never say never… The Mountain Eagle is a torrid tale of love and obsession, loss and redemption, and running through it all it is Hitch’s beloved wronged man theme. Of course he would go on to make this now-trope his own, but here it’s further evidence that much of his future cinematic agenda was laid out from the very start.

Bernhard Goetzke and Alma Reville on the set of The Mountain Eagle (1926, dir. Alfred Hitchcock)

Bernhard Goetzke and Alma Reville on the set of The Mountain Eagle. Already a veteran of many Weimar era classics, his imposing frame – perhaps put to best use as the figure of Death in Fritz Lang’s Destiny (Der müde Tod, 1921) – dwarfs 5′ Alma.

Like Hitch’s first film, The Pleasure Garden, The Mountain Eagle was an Anglo-German co-production of Gainsborough Pictures and Emelka Film Studios. This time it was shot entirely in Germany and Austria, and released in the former country in May 1926. It had at least eight England-wide trade screenings in October 1926 but was held back and only granted a UK release in May 1927, following the recent success of Hitch’s third film, The Lodger. As a result, The Mountain Eagle‘s release is sometimes attributed to either year but the earlier is more usual. Its literally-translated German title was Der Bergadler, while despite numerous claims to the contrary, it was not retitled Fear o’ God in the US; that was merely the name of Charles Lapworth‘s original short story on which the film was based. The academic Peter Noble, via his Index to the Work of Alfred Hitchcock (1949), was the source of that much-repeated misapprehension, as he was the rumour of Nita Naldi, US star of The Mountain Eagle, also appearing in Hitch’s previous film.

For a life and career so publicly lived and thoroughly researched, I’m constantly amazed at just how much Hitch scholarship is sullied by routine repeating of fallacies and misapprehensions. At least (the Wayback Machine aside) publishing in the digital domain allows the luxury of endlessly editing and correcting. But before permanently committing my findings to the printed page I’d be ultra cautious about ensuring they were as truthful as possible. Sadly, it seems generations of Hitch scholars aren’t nearly as concerned. Check your facts!

It appears probable rather than a full-blown national release, only a very limited number of prints toured UK cinemas throughout the rest of 1927 and early 1928. If so, it would explain the much reduced likelihood of a single print surviving. The London trade show length was reported as 7,503ft; based on the 20fps settled on for the restored Pleasure Garden and Lodger, that would give a running time of 100min. As was usual practise for foreign imports and lower budgeted films, it was cut down for US release. Weekly Motion Picture News trade ads from October 30 1926–February 25 1927 list it as 6,000ft, while from March 4–April 22 1927 it was listed at 5,302ft. At 20fps those versions would run at 80 and 71min respectively. It played intermittently throughout the US from early 1927 until at least the end of 1929.

There’s a marked tendency for modern authors to damn this film with faint praise, despite having never seen it. While acknowledging it’s status as one of the most desired lost films of all, they’ll almost inadvertently follow up by remarking that’s wholly due to Hitch’s name being attached, rather than any inherent artistic merit. Why say such a thing, when the last confirmed screening was the best part of a century ago? Several reasons spring to mind. Firstly, as already stated, too many Hitch commentators can’t think for themselves and are far more comfortable lazily repeating what others have said before them. Secondly, while some contemporary reviewers were positively gushing, others were generally lukewarm or at best only cautiously enthusiastic, applauding the film in some respects while criticising others. The scenario itself doesn’t seem to have gone over as well as it could, whereas they’re unanimously approving of the film’s technical artistry. Some of the negative points are ill-founded, even based on the relative little we know. For instance, the Film-Kurier review (no. 125, 1 June 1926) said, “Also the location of the village is not exactly specified. The action seems to be playing somewhere in the Bavarian Forest, but this impression is soon blurred by English inscriptions and signs.” That particular reviewer was an idiot, completely lacking in imagination; it’s a fantasy, not a documentary. As stated, The Mountain Eagle was partly shot in Austria, in and around the village of Obergurgl, nestled in the Ötztal Alps in Tyrol, to be exact – all of which stood in quite nicely for the story’s reputed setting of Kentucky in the US of A.

Nita Naldi and Bernhard Goetzke in The Mountain Eagle (1926, dir. Alfred Hitchcock)

Nita Naldi and Bernhard Goetzke in The Mountain Eagle

Contemporary writers are also hasty to dismiss the film based on the fact it follows the seemingly lacklustre The Pleasure Garden, but those opinions are only based on the terrible Rohauer-butchered copy that’s been circulating for decades. The restored version of The Pleasure Garden is brilliant – fact – and bodes extremely well for its successor. Lastly, Hitch himself had an unfortunate and entirely misleading habit of dismissing or even being outright critical of earlier films he had an unhappy time making, or that didn’t turn out exactly as hoped for. When interviewed by Truffaut he determinedly distanced himself from his first two efforts, citing The Lodger thematically as “the first true Hitchcock picture”, but as on so many other occasions, any such remarks should be taken with a handful of salt. The bottom line is that given the masterpieces bookending it and the many others that followed, The Mountain Eagle has all the signs of being a bloody good film in its own right. For that reason alone it thoroughly deserves to be found.

Nita Naldi and Malcolm Keen in The Mountain Eagle (1926, dir. Alfred Hitchcock)

Nita Naldi and Malcolm Keen in The Mountain Eagle

For now the only significant tangible artefacts we have left of the film are a few dozen production photos, many of which are included in this great article, which will tell you just about everything you need to know about it. For even more, Dan Auiler, author of several books on the Master, penned Hitchcock Lost (2013), an eBook collating all currently known facts and materials on The Mountain Eagle, as well as some of Hitch’s unrealised projects.

To tide us over until something more substantial turns up, some talented and enterprising film students made a clever short, The Projectionist. It was released in 2012 to coincide with the re-premières of the restored Hitchcock 9. In true Hitchcockian fashion, it’s an alternately light and (very) dark imagining of where a stash of missing reels of The Mountain Eagle might be hiding.

Finding The Mountain Eagle: behind the scenes of The Projectionist


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I started Brenton Film because I love film – quelle surprise! The silent era, 1930s and 1940s especially get my literary juices flowing though. So you’ll see a lot about those. For more, see this site’s About page.

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